Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to interview a celebrity

As a public service to any toadie journalist assigned to do an inane starlet profile here is the style sheet YOU MUST FOLLOW!!!

Whether it’s for the LA TIMES, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, PARADE, or MERCENARY LIFE there is a specific protocol you are advised to follow to the letter. So please take note:

The interview must be a lunch date at a chic café, clearly identified.

The celebrity will arrive late. You must report how late and what her excuse was. And you must forgive her. Even if the excuse is, “I forgot” or “I had to liquor up to do this because I find you repulsive” you must be charmed.

It’s important to describe her outfit. Is Natalie Portman wearing jeans? Lead with that. Gwen Stefani has new sunglasses? Hold page one! And for godsakes, whatever you do, describe the celebrity’s hair. Was it pulled back? Tousled? No one gives a shit what Claire Danes thinks but they sure as hell need to know whether her hair was red, blonde, or strawberry blonde? You spent five years in journalism school at Northwestern. Use your tools.

Painstakingly note whether she picks at an egg white omelet or a Waldorf salad. Celebrities don’t eat, they “pick at”.

Note that she eats healthy and it’s paying off. You must compliment a celebrity’s appearance. Jennifer Aniston is “glowing” and “radiant” and when Courtney Love shows up looking like the dog’s breakfast she is dressed “casual” and “fun funky”.

Once the budding young diva starts yammering learn what is print-worthy and what is just utter brain-dead nonsense. Listen carefully because often you won’t be able to distinguish one from the other.

She will tell you that she is now in “a good place”. Report that. She’s learned some real “life lessons” on her last movie. At this point she’ll start talking real fast and you might have a tough time getting it all down. So make it easy on yourself. Write it all out before the interview.

She’ll tell you what she thinks of the world situation. She’ll have suggestions for how to fix it. Ignore!!! All of it. Complete balloon juice. This is where you can pick at your food.

She’ll gush about her latest movie. That’s the only reason she’s there. It’s certainly not to spend time with you. Should you excuse yourself after lunch and go to the bathroom for three minutes, by the time you get back she’ll have no idea who you are.

The thing about this film was that the director (just fill in the blank here) who is a “genius” allowed her to tap into an inner place she didn’t know even existed. He unleashed the “little girl” in her and maybe two or three past lives. It was really “scary” and “profound”. She “suffered” as a result but that’s okay because she is “all about the art”. It’s okay to eliminate all the “y’knows”, “ums”, and “likes”, but you must keep every “I’m all about...”

Do not bring up anything negative. Yes, she killed that pedestrian but it was only one and it was before she was in her “good place” and besides, she’s all about Africa now, so that’s what you need to focus on.

Never EVER talk about yourself or bring up any topic other than her. She will stare at you in disbelief like you just killed her puppy. A call to the publicist (who’s sitting at the next table with five of her best handlers) is certain to follow.

By now she’s sipping her cappuccino (which must be duly reported as well as whether she stirs it lazily, holds the cup with two hands, etc. This is vital information.). Very gingerly, bring up boyfriends. She may volunteer that her relationship is “in a good place” and then you’re home free. Again, no negatives. Do not mention that she ruined a marriage or broke up a home. Listen for these words: “(blank) has given me a real sense of self and opened my eyes to so many things.” It means she’s wrapping it up.

Thank her for taking the time. She will shake your hand and thank you. She’s amazed you got so much information out of her. She usually never is that revealing. You’ll look away for a second, a gesture of modesty. Poof! By the time you look back she’ll be gone.

If you get back to the office, write up the story, and see that you’re short you can always slug in the following: She gets great gas mileage on her Prius (even though she drove up in a Porsche). She never actually sees any of the movies she’s in. She’d like to do a comedy someday because people don’t realize it but she’s soooo funny. Harry Potter changed her life. And she’s all about the truth but she also just discovered power walking.

Write that up, see it three weeks later as a cover story in PEOPLE, and request a transfer to Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this most helpful piece Ken. I am about to interview a celeb for an article. Thankfully, it is the director who got that great performance out of her, but I will still use your formula. I'm sure it will apply.

Kate Coe said...

If the celebrity is female, and obviously emaciated, you have to mention that she eats like a horse, and how she ordered a huge burger and fries. You can leave out how long she spent in the ladies' room, throwing it up.

Car Sanook said...

Jesus Christ! This is what I need. To go and interview a famous person.
With a dog. Because all celebs have dog right? - "How,haw,how..."

Car Sanook

Simon H. said...

The sad thing is this is completely dead-on 100% accurate. Entertainment Tonight should include this piece in their training packet for new employees.

Cap'n Bob said...

What about gravitas? Shouldn't gravitas pop up somewhere?

Buttermilk Sky said...

Clearly you have read far too many of these interviews. Promise me you will read something else, or the folks here may have to arrange an intervention. Are you with me, commenters?

Patrick said...

Just brilliant! So honest and on the mark. No punches pulled. I'll be chuckling to myself over this one for a few days. Especially the image of the publicist sitting at a table nearby, on the phone -- so funny. But did I miss the part about how the starlet's parents were always SO supportive? And how she is so close with her mom, who's her biggest fan? I always love that part of the interview. Never gets old.

Alice said...

I've seen this template on Cosmopolitan too. But nit Cosmopolitan in Español, I guess it just works in the US.

Eric said...

Cap'n Bob - "Gravitas" only comes up with a male star over 40 who's costarring with a teenager/early '20s starlet.

And never bing it up with an actress over 30. It sounds way too much like "gravity," which is of course her sworn enemy.

SharoneRosen said...

the moment I saw the title of today's piece, the first phrase that slammed into my mind was, "picked at her food!" Every article! Every time!

Just once I'd like to hear the interviewer say "she wolfed down her lunch like she'd never seen food before" and imagine that it wasn't purged moments later... but then, I'd also like world peace and a low fat prime rib... I can dream.

WV: sunkini... naaaaa... too easy

Baylink said...

"balloon juice"

I *love* it. :-)

vw: prain: what you want to give the zombies...

Anonymous said...

Dearest Ken Levine,

May I suggest two follow ups to this post?
-->How to interview a celebrity on TV interview and
-->How to interview a celebrity at a junket

A grateful admirer

P.S. BEST alternative to this type of interview: Esquire Mag sent a dude who didn't know who Gerard Butler was to interview him.

te said...

Don't forget the part when you're interviewing the mildly talented spawn of a "name" actor, studio chief, etc. where they explain with a perfectly straight face that "I didn't tell them that Arnold Schwarzenegger(or David Geffen, or Nikki Finke, or whoever) was my father/mother/father's mistress/brother, whatever) because I wanted to earn the job on my own merits."

And you must then print the quote with no comment, let alone further investigation. In fact, since it's a celebrity you're interviewing, you needn't bother verifying anything. You are, after all, lucky to get the interview.

tb said...

When I hear atheletes being interviewed, I can't help but flash on 'Bull Durham'. Now I'll think of Ken's template when I happen upon one of these inane pieces (usually in a wrinkly magazine at the doctors office, or smog-check shop)

Tom Quigley said...

One question which maybe someone could answer for me: Would it be better to interview Lindsay Lohan before or AFTER a court appearance?...

wv: hologirg -- a three-dimensional image of a girg....

Dave said...

Ken, did you just read the Esquire cover "story" on Kate Beckinsale, 'cause, man, was that ever a glistening turd of the likes you've described.

(The pix of her are nice, though.)

northwesternalumn said...

Dearest Tom Quigley~

How old is Linds Lohan? She doesn't look a day UNDER 40!
The bleached blonde, fuel injected lips coupled with the less than clean livin': the old girl is looking tres tres rode hard and put away wet.
What a waste.

D. McEwan said...

"te said...
Don't forget the part when you're interviewing the mildly talented spawn of a 'name' actor, studio chief, etc. where they explain with a perfectly straight face that 'I didn't tell them that Arnold Schwarzenegger(or David Geffen, or Nikki Finke, or whoever) was my father/mother/father's mistress/brother, whatever) because I wanted to earn the job on my own merits.'

Yes, that is so on the mark. "I hoped the producer wouldn't recognize me, even though he's my Godfather, and has known me all my life." "I called myself 'Lisa Minnolli' so no one would know I was Judy Garland's daughter."

It also happens with writers. Stephen King's son, Joe Hill King, has published a few novels and a good book of short ghost stories, and calls himself "Joe Hill," like his father's name is some sort of disgrace. No one knew he was Stephen King's son except everyone in the entire publishing industry. It's such an affectation. And unneeded, as his books are actually very good.

Plus he writes horror novels and stories, so he has the exact same audience as his dad. I guess he's hoping his readers won't remember "This is for Joe Hill King, who shines on" on the dedication page of THE SHINING, because no fans of horror stories have EVER read THE SHINING. And then there's the review quotes. Here's a representative one from the San Francisco Chronicale: "the kind of horror tale perfected by Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Stephen King." Somehow, they manage not to include "Wink, wink."

Matt Patton said...

It works with male actors as well, you know. Just read a smarmy puff-piece interview with an actor doing some annoying series for a premium cable channel. A few annoying euphemisms:

"almost Zen-like" -- Subject of the interview downed several rum-and-cokes while bogarting numerous joints of expensive marijuana the night before. Having been dragged to consciousness by the publicist no doubt camping out in the next booth, he stares off into space while trying to focus his eyes.

"relishes conversation, pursuing any tangent" -- When he does speak, he says the first inane thing that comes into his head.

"gravitated towards music" -- Joined a rock band in high school, figuring it was the fastest route to getting his gonads serviced.

"One of Hollywood's great families." -- Relatives in the business with enough push to guarantee that as long as they're alive and making money, he'll get work that should have gone to more talented members of his various professions.

"More recently, he started the side project _________ Records." - Nobody else will sign his goof-off band to a record contract, but his Great Hollywood Family slipped him some money . . .

You get the idea. At least Africa isn't mentioned.

SharoneRosen said...

Ive got nothing to add, just loved the

WV: palingst- the statewide ennui in Alaska left by their former governor